Barack Obama took advantage of his final international trip as U.S. president to urge young people from all over Latin America to remain optimistic—even during the Trump presidency.
At a town hall meeting held in Peru with a group of young entrepreneurs from across the hemisphere Obama said there is no better time to be alive than right now. He said technological advances have enabled people to connect with each other and find solutions to global problems in ways that his generation “could not have imagined.”
But he noted that globalization has also created a new set of challenges that young people must deal with, such as the “widening gap between rich and poor” and “the forces of extremism and division that too often tear communities apart.”
Obama urged young people to continue fighting against xenophobia and racism. He told his audience, made up mostly of Latin American students and entrepreneurs, that trade protectionism and nationalist politics—two cornerstones of Trumpism—should not be the way forward in the U.S. or any other country.
“Sometimes you take two steps forward and you take one step back. And you shouldn't be discouraged when that happens, cause history doesn't just move in a straight line,” the president said.
Obama said that he expected Trump to revise trade deals with countries around the world, including many in Latin America. But he said that hopefully Trump would realize that trade and international cooperation on issues like climate change are in everyone's interest.
“Don't assume the worst,” Obama told an audience member who asked him if the U.S would withdraw from NATO under Trump. “Wait until the administration is in place, until it's putting its policies together, and then you can make your judgement on whether it is consistent with the international community's interest of living in peace together.”
The town hall was held on the sidelines of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Lima, Peru. The forum was attended by the heads of state of a dozen nations belonging to the economic bloc.
During his final international tour, which also included stops in Berlin and Athens, Obama has been at pains to explain Trump's victory to the world. He's said his government fought to decrease economic inequalities, but not all Americans had the “impression” that things were getting better fast enough, so they voted for Trump.
Obama urged his young audience in Lima to reach across national, ethnic, and racial lines to tackle common problems and build a better world.
“We should all have the capacity to be proud of our particular identity, but also see what you have in common with people that don't look like you,” Obama said.
The president said that the U.S. would continue to fund grants for young entrepreneurs in the Americas who participate in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative. He also pledged continued support for an educational exchange program that seeks to send 100,000 U.S. citizens to study in Latin America and the Caribbean and receive 100,000 foreign students in the U.S. by 2020.
“We have the power to make our own history,” Obama said. “We don't have to repeat the same mistakes. We don't have to be confined to what has happened before.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.